Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 1: Introduction

SOME MODERN MORAL THEOLOGIANS, revisionists and proportionalists of dubious inspiration and questionable Evangelical and Ecclesiastical pedigree, deprecate the era of the "manuals" and their method. Too wed are these (they aver, or rather whine) to the inhuman, unfeeling syllogism, too unheedful of personalism, and too attached to physicalism.


But with a "whatever," and a shake of the head and a smirk to their passé status (Oh! It is so tedious to listen to their squeaky pontifications!), we shall ignore these now gray-haired (Curran, McCormick, etc.) or even dead fellows (Fuchs, Häring, Lonergan, etc.), that we have criticized in past postings or we are sure to criticize in future postings, and instead follow the wise advice of C. S. Lewis:
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. . . . Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristics mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
C. S. Lewis, "On the Reading of Old Books," God in the Dock (Eerdmans 1994), 201-02.

Nothing seems better calculated to jar one out of one's contemporary prejudices and modern patterns of thought than reading an old book. (It would be equally fine if we could read books not yet published! What could we but learn then! But, alas, this is something we cannot do. So we must rely on the old.) Old books seem to be a preferred tool of the Holy Spirit and Divine Providence. Read, for example, a Manual on Moral Theology by Rev. Thomas Slater, S. J., or the Handbook of Moral Theology by Dominic Prümmer, O.P., and you just may be shaken out of your modern complacency, into repentance, and straight into the merciful arms of the Lord. It is like Moses hit you over the head with the tablets of stone!

We ought to remember Christ's words before doling out criticisms of our intellectual elders as if our generation always represents an advance: "Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old." (Matt. 13:52) Why be embarrassed of our old patrimony? Let us rather relish in the good that may be found in the nova, but let us also delight in the good that is found in the vetera. We will spend the next few blog postings in the old, the vetera, and reflect on Cardinal Mercier's teachings on moral theology and the natural law, specifically those contained in Volume 2 of this Cardinal's A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1919). Dusting the covers of this venerable Cardinal's work, we shall see what he may have to teach us. But before doing so, let us spend a little time reviewing the life of this prince of the Church.

Cardinal Mercier by Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942)

On November 21, 1851, a boy was born at the the château du Castegier in Braine-l'Alleud, in French-speaking Belgium, the fifth of seven children borne by Anne-Marie Barbe Croquet and fathered by Paul-Léon Mercier. He was to receive the wonderfully-hyphenated name, Désiré-Félicien-François-Joseph Mercier. At the young age of ten, he entered the minor seminary for the Archdiocese of Mechelen (also known as Malines), and at the age of nineteen was graduated to the Grand Seminary, where he studied until ordained to the priesthood in 1874. In 1877 he obtained his licentiate in theology and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Louvain. He also studied psychology in Paris at the Dr. J. C. Charcot Clinic. Returning to Mechelen, he taught philosophy and was spiritual director of the minor seminary where he had once studied. In 1882, he was appointed to the chair of Thomism and the Catholic University in Louvain. Mercier founded the Higher Institute of Philosophy at Louvain University in 1899, a bulwark and light post of New-Scholasticism and Neo-Thomism. He founded the Neo-Scholastic journal, Revue Néoscholastique in 1894, and remained its editor until 1906. Among his more famous published works may be placed his Les origines de la psychologie contemporaine (The Origins of Contemporary Psychology) (1897).

Pope St. Pius X appointed Mercier Archbishop of Mechelen, which effectively made him Primate of Belgium in 1906. Shortly thereafter, in 1907, he was created Cardinal, and his titular church was St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli).

Archbishop Mercier Protecting Belgium

Historically, he is perhaps most highly regarded by the Belgians for his vigorous defense of his homeland from the invading Germans during World War I, and his strenuous, even heroic efforts to relieve the suffering of his countrymen. He wrote a pastoral letter, scathing against the Germans, but rallying toward the Belgians called Patriotism and Endurance, and ordered it read aloud in all Belgian churches in January 1915.
. . . . God will save Belgium, my Brethren, you cannot doubt it.
Nay rather, He is saving her.
Across the smoke of conflagration, across the stream of blood, have you not glimpses, do you not perceive signs, of His love for us? Is there a patriot among us who does not know that Belgium has grown great? Nay, which of us would have the heart to cancel this last page of our national history? Which of us does not exult in the brightness of the glory of this shattered nation? When in her throes she brings forth heroes, our Mother Country gives her own energy to the blood of those sons of hers. Let us acknowledge that we needed a lesson in patriotism. . . . [W]hen, on the second of August, a mighty foreign power, confident in its own strength and defiant of the faith of treaties, dared to threaten us in our independence, then did all Belgians, without difference of party, or of condition, or of origin, rise up as one man, close-ranged about their own king, and their own government, and cry to the invader: "Thou shalt not go through !"
At once, instantly, we were conscious of our own patriotism. For down within us all is something deeper than personal interests, than personal kinships, than party feeling, and this is the need and the will to devote ourselves to that more general interest which Rome termed the public thing, Res publica. And this profound will within us is patriotism.
. . . .
Patriotism, an internal principle of order and of unity, an organic bond of the members of a nation, was placed by the finest thinkers of Greece and Rome at the head of the natural virtues. Aristotle, the prince of the philosophers of antiquity, held disinterested service of the City - that is, the State - to be the very ideal of human duty. And the religion of Christ makes of patriotism a positive law; there is no perfect Christian who is not also a perfect patriot.
Such bold words were not well-received by the occupying Germans. He was placed under house arrest by the Germans, and was thus a symbol of the Belgian resistance to the unjust occupation of their land.

War Poster in Support of Cardinal Mercier's
Efforts to Obtain Food for the War-Stricken

World War I was a then-unparalleled human tragedy. The loss of human life and the destruction of human patrimony was staggering. No sacrifice seemed to much to appease the god of Total War. Both Mercier's Cathedral and the University of Louvain suffered some destruction. In the Preface of Mercier's Manual we intend to review, written by Professor Peter Coffey (of Maynooth College, Ireland), the Irish Neo-scholastic notes:
Had the world but hearkened to the truths proclaimed by such as [Cardinal Mercier] and embodied in lives like his, had it but held fast to the Christian Philosophy of Life, well--the twentieth century might have dawned without such a baptism of blood. . . .

Surely the shock of a world-catastrophe will be followed by graver and deeper heart-searching about the guiding principles which have been 'civilizing' peoples by ripening the human forces for mutual slaughter and annihilation. The cult of material might and its supplanting of moral right, the gospel of individual self-sufficiency and emancipation from religious restraints, the deification of the State and the extinguishing of the lights of heaven--have these tendencies and achievements heralded human progress, or have they brought on humanity a terrible nemesis? Perhaps the cry of a chastened Europe will be--Back to Christ! Back to the Christian Philosophy of Life! Let us hope so. . . .
Preface, vii, viii. We are still hoping.

Mercier is also noted as an early sponsor of Ecumenism and Christian unity, holding rapproachement with Anglican representatives and theologians at Mechelen to explore the possibility of union which are referred to as the "Malines Conversations." They ultimately led nowhere, ended during the episcopacy of his successor who was less supportive of such initiative, especially after the final decision by Pope Leo XIII, pronounced in his Bull Apostolicae Curae, that the Anglican orders were invalid.

And now, with that introduction, we may turn to the Cardinal's view on moral theology and the natural law, presented à la mode manuel, in the manner of the manualists, to see what we might learn. It might behoove us to pray, with the words of the Cardinal, his popular prayer to the Holy Spirit:
O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your Will.

O Esprit-Saint, âme de mon âme, je vous adore, éclairez-moi, guidez-moi, fortifiez-moi, consolez-moi; dites-moi ce que je dois faire, donnez-moi vos ordres; je vous promet de me soumettre à tout ce que vous désirez de moi et d'accepter tout ce que vous permettrez qui m'arrive, faites-moi seulement connaître votre volonté.

No comments:

Post a Comment